Volume 16 · Number 2 · Pages 141–151
The Tangled Dialectic of Body and Consciousness: A Metaphysical Counterpart of Radical Neurophenomenology

Michel Bitbol

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Context: Varela’s neurophenomenology was conceived from the outset as a criticism and dissolution of the “hard problem” of the physical origin of consciousness. Indeed, the standard (physicalist) formulation of this problem is what generates it, and turns it into a fake mystery. Problem: Such a dissolution of the “hard problem” is very demanding for researchers. It invites them to leave their position of neutral observers/thinkers, and to seek self-transformation instead. It leaves no room for the “hard problem” in the field of discourse, and rather deflects it onto the plane of attitudes. As a consequence, it runs the risk of being either ignored or considered as a dodge. How can we overcome this obstacle and restore the argumentative impact of neurophenomenology? Method: I propose a metaphysical compensation for the anti-metaphysical premise of the neurophenomenological dissolution of the “hard problem.” Yet, this alternative metaphysics is designed to keep the benefit of a shift from discourse to ways of being - this is the latent message of neurophenomenology. Results: A dynamical and participatory conception of the relation between body and consciousness is formulated, with no concession to standard positions such as physicalist monism and property dualism. This conception is based on Varela’s formalism of “cybernetic dialectic” and on a geometrical model of self-production. It is in close agreement with Merleau-Ponty’s “intra-ontology: an engaged ontological approach of what it is like to be, rather than a discipline of the contemplation of beings. Implications: Taking neurophenomenology seriously implies a radical shift in our way of tackling the “hard problem” of consciousness. There is no question here of theorizing about the neuro-experiential correlation but of including it in a chain of resonance and continuous research that amplifies our lived life. Even metaphysics partakes in this shift. Constructivist content: The article advocates a critical stance towards standard realist approaches to the science and philosophy of mind. A complete reversal of the hierarchy of ontological priorities between physical objects and consciousness is proposed, in the spirit of Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences. Then, the obvious but usually overlooked relation between being conscious and knowing consciousness is emphasized. Keywords: Neurophenomenology, phenomenology, consciousness, experience, mind-body problem, quantum mechanics, neutral monism, panpsychism, Merleau-Ponty.


Bitbol M. (2021) The tangled dialectic of body and consciousness: A metaphysical counterpart of radical neurophenomenology. Constructivist Foundations 16(2): 141–151. https://constructivist.info/16/2/141

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